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Travel writing: Silk Trail Expedition

silk trail 4Going boldly where no man has gone before is a proud tradition at Land Rover, whose four-wheel-drive vehicles have been exploring parts of the earth inaccessible to others for more than 60 years  now. Land Rover’s Silk Trail Expedition, made during the summer and autumn of 2013, was one of the most ambitious of all the company’s adventures, and I was lucky enough to be selected as a team member. Working 18 to 20 hours a day for 53 consecutive days, it was my responsibility to write regular press releases, daily reports, and long descriptive captions to accompany photographs made available by Land Rover after every day’s driving to media worldwide. This writing appeared in hundreds of media outlets, in print and online, across the globe.

The Silk Trail Expedition was the final validation test for the new Range Rover Hybrid before it was signed-off for production, a 10,472-mile trek from Solihull in the UK to Mumbai in India to prove the vehicle’s unequalled capability. For much of the way we followed the legendary Silk Road trading routes that first connected Asia with Europe more than 2,500 years ago, making overnight halts at many of the same staging posts visited all those years ago by Silk Road merchants, missionaries and mercenaries.

After passing smoothly through England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland, we carved a challenging route across the Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Tibet, Nepal and India. Driving conditions included asphalt and dirt roads with cavernous potholes, mud tracks made sticky by torrential rain, dusty desert trails in extreme heat, cattle trails strewn with rocks and boulders, narrow passes clinging to mountain-edges, the cold thin air of extreme altitudes, and the hazardously erratic traffic of Nepal and trail

Where the north and south Silk Roads split, near the remote city of Kashgar in north-western China, the expedition pioneered a mountainous route never previously seen in its entirety by a westerner – the Xinjiang-Tibet highway, which climbs to altitudes classified by medical practitioners and mountaineers as High, Very High, and Extremely High. At such great heights the oxygen content in the air is reduced from the 21 percent found at sea-level to as little as 10 percent. We laboured at altitudes between 11,000 and 17,648 feet for seven long days, feeling old beyond our years.

Our progress was slowed, all the way from the Crimean Peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea to Mumbai port on the Arabian Sea, by punctures, damaged wheels, cracked windscreens, and border crossings delayed for hours by officials bristling with suspicion, but the expedition was completed successfully and my last task, in the unseemly luxury of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, was to write speeches about the adventure for presentation by senior Land Rover executives.

A few examples of blogs I posted from the expedition to a personal website, when I got chance, can be found under the case studies heading ‘travel writing.

Here’s a short video about the expedition.

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